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  • Writer's pictureSt. Joseph Parish

Practicing to be Paul XII (3/12)

The last time I emailed, I told about the exciting day we hoped to have with Dawn Upshaw and the folks from the vocal performance department at our sister school Bard College in Annondale-on-Hudson. Unbelievable as it may seem, it was cancelled because of weather. Really. This is winter in New England and the Northeast (which includes New York of course). What did they expect!?!?!? Last time I checked, when the weather is bad, one allows more time for travel. As is often enough the case, of course, that weekend’s storm turned out to be another of the “great winter storms that wasn’t.” So that turned out to be a bust much to everyone’s disappointment.  Since then there have been a couple of others, including one scheduled for this coming Monday, 18 March. Anne Azema (Boston Camerata) was supposed to come over, but that was nipped in the bud apparently.

I’ve written about my EEP project before, called “May I borrow that tune please.” I had my first classroom visit a couple of weeks ago, and I must say that it is going to be a real challenge. Oh, not with the kids, at least the ones in the 8th grade, nor with the gal with whom I will be dealing with directly (also a student at Longy), but with the woman who is in charge of the class! She is a ditz, or however you spell it. From the way she was described to me by Seychelle (really her name, like the island chain). If you could do it wrong, she did it. Let me explain….they are getting ready for some big celebration at the school (Epiphany School, Dorchester). The 8th grade, as well as the other grades, 5 through 7. The class time I visited was the 8th grade preparing/learning 2 songs, one a Haitian Creole song called Panama mwe tombe, and the other was Smile, that ever lovely and famous song from way back when when I was a child! Now, you have to understand that, due to short cash (always the case) the school could not afford scores for all the kids, so instead the text was projected on a large screen. That’s it, no notes, jsut text. The teacher, Neha, tried to do this call and response technique to teach it, and she was failing wonderfully! I felt sorry for the kids. She was singing it out and clapping a rhythm at the same time. Then after a few times of doing this, she played a recording. Now that was interesting as all get out, because she had NOT been clapping the same rhythm as the recording. Oh yeah…it just got better and better. I forgot to add that I don’t think she ever taught them the translation, which would have helped to some extent. Then on to Smile. Yeah, I’m sorry but there is a serious disconnect between that jazz standard and a bunch of 8th graders. Add to that, these kids are all minority and you have an absolute cluster…um….mess. Yeah…that’s my word….so one of the girls in the class says, “Its such a sad song!” And Neha simply verbally slapped her down with, “No it isn’t. Listen to the music underneath. There are no minor chords.” I wanted to scream at this point. I suppose at this time in my life, much as I was never good at “suffering fools gladly,” I can do so even less now! Seriously.

On the bright side of this experience, Seychelle is going to be a dream to work with, I think the children there are as well, as so is the principal/director. His name is……of course I’ve forgotten by now. He is an Episcopal minister, and is very interested in trying to get the kids in this school involved in the music of the Eucharist services. So, my project is going to be adapted to go from working with hymn tunes, etc., to having them set some texts to tunes they know. Wait a minute, there is a gap here…let me try this again. My project is about hymn text writers sometimes using tunes they knew for the texts they composed, sometimes using folk tunes, sometimes using classical music. The same is done with pop songs, so Seychelle and I are going to combine these two things, do part of my original project and adapt so that, at the end of it, done in two sessions, there will be a couple of things that will be done at the Eucharist that I will be celebrating with them that they will have composed! Now to fill in the next part of the gap that actually makes this even more exciting, Jim Finlay…that’s the principal’s name!!…told me that the 8th grade is responsible for the preaching and the 6th grade is responsible for some of the prayers…so, the 8th grade will come up with a short story or poem that summarizes the sermon, and the 6th grade will come up with a short prayer that summarizes what they are doing, and the 5th and 7th grades will come up with the music from classical, pop, or make up their own, no matter the style…yes,even rap, which I think would be a real kick!  This is going to be really exciting to do up well. Now all I have to do is find out what day exactly I will be doing this with them, then tell my two Tuesday teachers (who I am sure will NOT be thrilled) that and when this will happen. Music is taught ONLY on Tuesday, unfortunately.

Other things are going along well enough…trying to get time to learn the new Exultet for Holy Saturday, memorizing the 6 songs for my jury, getting used to the new collaborative pianist I have…as well as all of the rest of the stuff that takes place. The new pianist….he is a really interesting character,and I mean character. He is the boyfriend of one of the gals I sang with in Opera Workshop last semester. He also is “earthy” as am I. He is a crackerjack musician, and all that good stuff that one can say. We get along great outside of music making, and in music making as well. As a collaborative, of course, part of his work is to help critique and help me improve. At one point he asked me if he should not say so much, at which point I gave him the hairy eyeball look and told him that the whole point of collaborative is that he should collaborate! Even though, as the old saying goes, “too many cooks (can) spoil the stew”, the more feedback about what is going on, the easier it is to fix things. Add to this that he is also playing for my lessons, it makes it all the more important that he speak up when things  We had our first lesson together this past Thursday, and it was almost funny. He got yelled at, or rather corrected, just as much as I did. His summary of the experience was that my voice teacher is a real hard-ass, in a good way. Well…he is! And he has to be, that’s what he gets all the big bucks for, as we say. So Jon and I are going to have LOADS of fun with this for the remainder of the semester. He will play for my lessons, practice and my jury at the end of April. In fact, if I recall correctly, jury week is around the same time as my birthday! What a gift, yes?

Mostly things are going well enough. I say mostly because things in the house here are less than great. Once again the landlady has stuck her nose in where it doesn’t belong, she has moved my things, effectively hiding them from me, and has littered the first and second floor hallways with her junk. Yeah, I am right now looking for a new place, and as soon as I find one, I am going to give her notice and tell her why. At the very least, if she does move something that is NOT hers, she should first ASK, and if the person in question is not around, there is always the cell phone. Nothing, no notice whatsoever. That really rips me…invasion of privacy, etc. But then, on top of it, to clutter the place with her crap instead, and …well, as you can tell, I really get on my high horses about these kinds of things. Along the lines of household things, she is trying to rent out the room she used to occupy. A good idea I suppose, however, as with our three rooms, she still has loads of her stuff in it, books on shelves, etc., and she thinks this is okay. The bathroom on the second floor has plastic sheeting on the walls around the tub so prevent water from soaking into the inappropriately finished walls, and she thinks this is just fine. For the amount of money she is getting for these rooms, well above the average for the area, one would think that she would be more careful about these things. It makes me crazy, and I am the one who has to “interview” potential renters because she is living in New York (Queens) and working with a couple of schools in New Jersey. Yeah….life is real interesting. She has sent me a couple of emails from people who supposedly are interested in renting, but of the 6 or so who wrote only 2 have actually contacted me about coming over to look, and when they see the place, especially that lovely plastic wrapped bathroom, they are completely turned off. One woman was very abrupt and vocal about the whole thing. Can’t say as I blame her. That’s why I am looking for a new place now. For the amount I am paying here, $870/month, I’ve seen places with much nicer accommodations, utilities included. Yup. The only reason I am here is that I was running out of time to find a place.

Let me see what all else..ah…one of the composition students has asked me to be part of the choir for his church piece in Old Church Slavonic (old Russian) and he is writing a companion piece, again in Old Church Slavonic, with a solo for ME, and another one is writing a set of songs based on “The Village Blacksmith”by some famous area author, for Bass Voice…ME AGAIN! (not very jokingly) aren’t I lucky?? I think so. Maybe for my recital next year I can do these songs. Other musical musings, as it were, are not very much. Brahms Song Cycle class with Jane Struss continues to be amazing. Last week we worked on song #1 from my cycle, and she was amazed at what was done. Then we started on song #2, and there is loads to do there, because we just started it, of course. Song #3 is in very good shape as well as #1, that leaves #4 to begin, the most complex of the set…all kinds of leaps and jumps, in a major key as opposed to a minor key like the other 3, and totally different in mood as well, very optimistic, as opposed to the doom and gloom of the other 3. That should make it a real challenge is a whole different set of ways. And yes, in spite of that I am looking forward to that as well.

A number of folks I know are graduating this year, and their graduating recitals have started. I already wen to one, and it was really great. It was for clarinet, mostly unaccompanied, and it was a challenge for me to listen to. Much of the music was very contemporary, so I had to try hard to “get it.” I think I did in some part. The best piece by far was a rendition of the clarinet solo from Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. Before she began to play, she had someone read a poem first in English translation then in the original Yiddish. The poem is called “Without Jews.” As she played the solo, she had projected on the back screen pictures from the concentration camps, art work done by the children and adults from the camps as well as survivors and relatives of survivors. By the time she was done with us, I don’t think there was anyone who was NOT ready to explode for one reason or another. Of the several dozens of people who were there, I don’t know if there were 15 at most who very reluctantly applauded. It was too much like a religious service of some kind, and we didn’t want to break the atmosphere she had created. Oh yeah…..It is going ot get really difficult to get to the recitals I want to attend as well as the concerts I need to go to as part of the requirements for the semester.

Other than that, not much going on. I’m sure that there are other things I would like to tell you about, but they do not come to mind at the moment. I should really start to make notes to myself in my datebook or something.

Take care one and all


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